the travel geek

"Sometimes reality is too complex. Stories give it form."

Commute Adventures: Typical. Typical. United.

I should do a weekly post on United Airlines. The things that happen on United are so unbelievable that I doubt that anyone could actually make this shit up. After 5-years of continual travel I thought I’d seen it all… and yet, every week United still manages to find new and unexpected ways to surprise me. And, as a person who focuses on customer driven design, it provides me with an unending list of examples that I can use with clients and in presentations.

The UAL flights out of SF are never on schedule and there’s never an apparent reason other than “things are running late” with little to no explanation. Still, being on United, I’ve come to expect that 20-30 minutes late is a good thing… departure time is usually the boarding time… and everyone between SF and Calgary will endlessly boast that it’s “another on-time United flight” even though we get in later than the time printed on my ticket.

This week’s commute seemed to be going normal… the typical 20-minute lateness… typical stewardess yelling slowly as if everyone was deaf and 3-years old… the typical sarcastic comments from other passengers… it was so typical that I fell asleep just after take-off… disappointed that I was flying United but not so angry that I couldn’t go to sleep.

About half way through the flight I woke up having a “where the hell am I” moment and convinced that I was in a sauna. I reached up to turn on the air ventilation and was hit by a blast of extremely hot air that brought me from a half asleep state to fully awake. I turned to the guy next to me to verify that I wasn’t imagining what felt like being hit by a blow torch: “Yep. We’ve been baking now for about 10-minutes, which would explain the loud pop I heard a while ago.”

I signaled the stewardess who was so engrossed in conversation with her friend in first class that it took her a moment to realize that someone had actually pushed the call button. When she reached me, she confirmed that they were having “extreme issues with their environmental system” and that she “didn’t realize how hot it was because she was in first class.” For the next 10-minutes there was much arm flapping, rapid walking, and whispering as the attendants “did everything they could to cool the plane down.” I felt like saying, “Isn’t it -40C outside an airplane? How hard can it be to cool it off?”

Eventually, by the end of the flight it was cool enough that I didn’t feel like I was sitting in a giant’s cauldron atop a very large cooking fire. No one spoke a word about the “temperature issue” as we descended back into the world of typical… typical turn your electric devices completely off 45-minutes before landing… typical “another on-time United flight”… typical bumbling of statements about luggage and customs that need to be retracted…

After landing we had difficulty at the gate. Apparently, the skybridge couldn’t attach itself to the plane because it was too far back. This isn’t only a United thing… I’ve seen this before with other airlines. However, in those cases the attendants usually har har har a little bit, everyone sits down, and they move the plane. But, by the time everyone realized there was a problem, passengers had migrated, the back hatch was already open, and checked baggage was being removed.

It took United over 20-minutes to figure out what to do… and after the initial grumbling “we can’t attach the bridge” message, there was not one single update as to what was happening.

I’m not sure the resolution. I felt the plane shift forward slightly at one point, the skybridge magically found a way to attach itself, and people started to get off the plane. Finally, there was light at the end of the tunnel… quite literally, because after half the people were off the plane, the lights went out.

Yes… they turned the lights off.

Imagine the chaos that ensued… people were stumbling around desperately trying to find bags that were already in their hand… a minute later the lights came back on and everyone laughed a little bit about what an adventure it is to fly these days.

I’m not so generous. I seemed to have lost my diplomacy when I started doing IxD and CDD work. The only things that pop into my head in these situations are: Why is this company still in business? and Why do people put up with this? and Why don’t they actually DO SOMETHING about their poor customer service instead of relying on revenue from people who will happily jump ship when another airline starts flying the YYC to SFO route.

It all so very non-sensical to me.

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